Smallholder farmers near Gonaives, Haiti recently planted the first commercial cotton crop in the country since 1987, with support from Timberland and other brands. The farmers planted a demonstration farm which will train other smallholder farmers to cultivate cotton. As a key supporter of the effort, Timberland provided participating farmers with shirts as a symbol of the future market for the cotton they planted. The global outdoor lifestyle brand, in partnership with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance, aims to bring cotton farming back to Haiti not only to create a new supply chain for organic cotton to use in its products, but also to help reforest Haiti and improve the lives of smallholder farmers.
Timberland and the SFA first forged a partnership in 2010 to fulfill Timberland’s commitment to plant five million trees in five years in Haiti. Timberland’s investment established tree nurseries in several communities in Haiti. The SFA invited smallholder farmers (who farm five acres or less) in the surrounding communities to help plant, transplant and care for the trees in exchange for seeds, tools, and training to improve the agricultural productivity of their land.
After five years, not only had the SFA planted close to five million trees, but the 6,000 participating farmers had seen an average 40 percent increase in crop yields and 50-100 percent average increase in income, enabling them to send 3,400 more children to school.
The SFA’s agroforestry program sustains itself by having participating farmers, after the harvest, share a small portion of their profits and return seeds to the nurseries to establish seed banks. The program expands and scales by creating high value crops for export such as moringa and, in six to seven months, cotton. Timberland plans to transition from being a supporter of the SFA to a customer in 2019, when the farmers harvest the cotton planted last week.
To maintain food security, participating farmers will plant cotton on no more than half of their land. The anticipated 40% increase in crop yields for farmers new to the SFA will offset the impact on food production for the land dedicated to cotton growing.
The vision for the SFA’s cotton program extends beyond Timberland, with a goal to engage 34,000 farmers on 17,000 farms who will produce approximately 15 million pounds of organically grown cotton lint annually. The SFA also expects to plant an additional 25 million trees throughout the 5-year initiative, as participating farmers will continue to engage in the tree nurseries. Given its anticipated scale, Timberland has reached out to other brands to support the effort; thus far, Vans and Patagonia have stepped up as supporters.
Claudine Jean, age 49, farms 2.5 hectares (5 acres) together with her husband, and recently planted part of their land in cotton. “My mother grew cotton and I always remember it was a good crop for our family, and now I can show my own daughters how to grow it,” said Claudine.
KEYWORDS: NYSE:VFC, Timberland, Haiti, cotton, agriculture, smallholder farmers